For many of us, childbirth is one of the areas of our lives that we have most adopted dominant, disempowering ideas. We are constantly bombarded with images of a laboring woman being rushed cursing to hospital and demanding drugs to relieve the intolerable pain. Black women are seldom represented in these images, but we too have uncritically taken on the idea that childbirth is a medical event best taken care of by professionals in a hospital bed. In fact, most of us give birth attended by a doctor trained in surgery, but with a very narrow set of skills for assisting women in birthing naturally. So it is no surprise when a cascade of interventions leads to the need for our baby to be "rescued" by an emergency C-Section. Nor is it a surprise that many hospitals and doctors refuse to assist women who have had a C-Section with having a vaginal birth (VBAC), but instead force them to undergo this major abdominal surgery again.
For black women in particular, the medical model of childbirth can be dangerous. In fact, we are 3-4 times likely to die in childbirth than white women, and our babies are half as likely to survive birth and the first year. Yet we have less access to natural birth alternatives including midwifery and home birth, and are less likely to receive consistent, appropriate prenatal care or adequate breastfeeding support. Black women and other women of color on government assistance, in prison or jail, or who are struggling with addictions have even fewer options, and face additional struggles including the fight to keep their newborns.
Black Women Birthing Justice define Birth Justice as follows:
"We believe that Birth Justice exists when women and transfolks are empowered during pregnancy, labor, childbirth and postpartum to make healthy decisions for themselves and their babies. Birth Justice is part of a wider movement against reproductive oppression. It aims to dismantle inequalities of race, class, gender and sexuality that lead to negative birth experiences, especially for women of color, low-income women, survivors of violence, immigrant women, queer and transfolks, and women in the Global South. Working for Birth Justice involves educating the community, and challenging abuses by medical personnel and overuse of medical interventions. It also involves advocating for universal access to culturally appropriate, women-centered health care. It includes the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy, to choose when, where, how, and with whom to birth, including access to traditional and indigenous birth-workers, such as midwives and doulas, and the right to breastfeeding support."
Birth Justice goes beyond the demands of the natural birth movement by demanding that the legal right to birth alternatives be accompanied by economic justice and access for all pregnant women and trans folks regardless of ability to pay. Advocates of birth justice view our demands as an integral part of the Reproductive Justice movement, and call on all RJ adcovates to consider adopting a Birth Justice platform alongside their other political work.
Support black mamas and other mamas of color in reclaiming breastfeeding and challenging the myths and social pressure that push women to depend on the formula companies, check out this fun video by lactation goddess TaNefer Lumukanda.